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Can “The Killer Inside Me” Ever Be Satisfyingly Brought to Screen?

Can “The Killer Inside Me” Ever Be Satisfyingly Brought to Screen? (photo)

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If ever there were ever a book destined to both invite and elude a satisfactory film adaptation indefinitely, Jim Thompson’s 1952 pulp magnum opus “The Killer Inside Me” is it.

Much like Walker Percy’s 1961 novel “The Moviegoer,” the spare prose, snapshot precise detail and intimate first person narration of “Killer” project a film directly into the reader’s head more lucid and haunting than anything likely arrive on a movie screen via creative committee.

And, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned, the lead characters in both books (a genial psychopath deputy sheriff in Thompson’s, and an emotionally unreachable Korean War veteran in Percy’s) aren’t exactly the kinds of seize the moment protagonists typically tasked with driving three acts of complications and changes to a satisfying climax that leaves an audience with happily shaking heads when the lights come up.

To my knowledge “The Moviegoer” remains in development limbo as an option contract, some script drafts and memos in a production company file cabinet somewhere in Culver City. Thompsons’ book, on the other hand, was previously adapted to film in 1976. This first attempt proved to be a particularly star-crossed production during which the original director was replaced by former Budd Boetticher screenwriter turned maker of comedy Westerns Burt Kennedy.

06162010_tkim1976.jpgKennedy’s efforts yielded a film notable primarily for squandering the considerable off kilter charisma of actress Susan Tyrell, paired for the second time with Stacey Keach her co-star from John Huston’s essential 1972 skid row prize fighting romance, “Fat City.”

According to author Joe Polito’s meticulously researched biography of Thompson — who along with two dozen novels co-wrote screenplays for Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” and “Paths of Glory” — was still ruing the finished result (and the small amount of option money he accepted for it) on his deathbed when he passed away in 1977.

Whatever faults “24 Hour Party People” and “Welcome to Sarajevo” director Michael Winterbottom’s new adaptation of “The Killer Inside Me” may have, the contempt Kennedy’s shrug of a picture had for its source is not one of them. Instead of opting for a modern dress updating like the 1976 film, Winterbottom and co-writer John Curran have sent “The Killer Inside Me” back to within a half decade or so (judging by the dates of the film’s period music cues) of the novel’s post-war southwestern milieu.

There Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a clean-cut deputy sheriff in an oil boomtown called Central City, good-naturedly accepts an assignment to visit a suspected prostitute named Joyce (Jessica Alba) on the outskirts of town her in order to encourage her to move on.

06162010_tkim03.jpgBut Lou’s gift for avoiding antagonism (he proudly admits to one law-abiding citizen that despite the badge he doesn’t carry a gun) is turned off, and something very dark within both him and Joyce is turned on after a few slaps in anger lead to some full contact expressions of consensual outré sexuality in Joyce’s boudoir.

While Lou and Joyce carry on clandestinely, Lou’s fiancé Amy (Kate Hudson) is running out of patience waiting to for Lou to pull the trigger, so to speak, on their wedding plans. Joyce, meanwhile, is the object of a financially convenient but otherwise unwelcome fascination by Elmer Conway (Jay R. Ferguson), son of the ruthless town construction magnate Chester Conway (Ned Beatty doing his best work in decades) who may or may not have been responsible for the death of Lou’s…

Well, if you’re familiar with Thompson’s book or with the work of almost any writing graduate of the Black Mask magazine school of crime literature that produced Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich and the like, you already know what’s in store. What’s unusual about the novel has more to do with character than with plot, anyway.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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